Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The big four-oh

I thought hitting the big four-oh was traumatic. Now I have hit the big four-oh of my graduation from Syracuse University in 1973. It was great to go back to campus for reunion last weekend. Didn’t see anyone I knew, but I had my main man with me, and that made it all worthwhile.

The homecoming game, Syracuse vs. Clemson...well, we knew going in it wasn’t going to be pretty. We won’t discuss the score, except to say we were not shut out. We had seats near the end zone where SU scored its two touchdown runs, which was pretty exciting. And the stadium was almost at capacity, nearly 49,000 -- and everybody in orange! I have never seen so much orange in my life! The tailgate party at the Sheraton (one of many going on before the game) was fun, too. The alumni were all friendly and a lot of them were older than we were – so maybe there’s hope that I’ll make it back for the big five-oh in ten years. Although going up those hills and stairs is going to be a real challenge.

The Dean's Breakfast for alums of the Newhouse School of Public Communications – Newhouse was the reason I went to Syracuse – was great. Lobster quiche, anyone? There were three presentations by faculty from the magazine department (my major), the television, radio and film department, and the broadcast and digital journalism department, the successor to the television-radio department, or TVR – I think. A lot of high-tech, really cool stuff going on. Magazine students can now take a course on developing smartphone and tablet apps that add content and whiz-bang graphics and video to the magazine experience. (Afterward, I checked the curriculum on the website and found that magazine students still take many of the same classes I did 40 years ago in an introduction to the industry, writing, and editing – although the graphic design class would be dramatically different in the digital age.)

We all were invited back next year for the dedication of the Dick Clark Studios. (More about that on the website, They have knocked out an imposing back wall of concrete/stone of Newhouse II on the Waverly Ave. side (described as "fortress-like") and are putting in a beautiful glass-walled addition for the studios. I think there will be five small studios that can be used for all sorts of projects.

A lot of new buildings have gone up on campus in the last 40 years. The old Victorian houses on University Ave. are gone, replaced with modern brick structures from the 1980s. In retrospect, Newhouse I and II and Bird Library seem really ugly to me, products of the 1960s and 1970s, and out of place on a campus with grand old buildings dating from the 1870s. The newer buildings try to bridge the gap between the Victorian elegance of the Hall of Languages (pictured above) and Crouse College and the utilitarian style of the present day. There’s lots of glass and a very open feel to Newhouse III.

News flash: You can now buy Clinique products in the Bookstore! And there is a cafe in Bird Library! Back in the day, the very idea of having food and beverages under the same roof as a library was heretical. Thank you, Barnes and Noble, for the cafes in your bookstores that prompted university libraries to create spaces to hang out during those long study and research sessions.

The alumni association ran free shuttle buses from the hotels to campus, so we didn't have to hassle with trying to find a legal place to park on campus. Thank you, alumni association. I owe you a big donation for that one.

Our hotel was in East Syracuse, actually northeast Syracuse, not too far from the airport, in a cluster of hotel chains and extended-stay places. But the rest of East Syracuse was shocking. It looks like New Orleans East post-Katrina. Abandoned manufacturing plants, employee parking lots with crumbling concrete and grass growing in the cracks, boarded-up gas stations, vacant lots overgrown with weeds. I asked a waitress at Denny's what happened. She told me Carrier pulled out two years ago (their world headquarters was right there), Chrysler shut down its plant, and GE shut down its plant. It's pretty grim. I guess a lot of these manufacturing jobs have gone overseas.

At one time Syracuse University was the largest employer in the area. I wouldn’t be surprised if it still is. The university and the adjoining medical complex are booming.

All in all, I'm glad we went to my big four-oh. I have a deep and abiding love for the place, even after all these years, and I was sad to leave at the end of the weekend. Syracuse University was a young girl’s ambitious dream for preparing for a future in the magazine business. It didn’t let me down. I treasure the years I spent there, and I treasure the memories of wonderful friendships made. Today I see other young people coming to campus with dreams just as ambitious as mine were all those years ago. They are being challenged to think, to create, to imagine new possibilities. I am proud of them. I am glad to call myself one of them.

And here I am with SU mascot Otto the Orange at the alumni barbecue. Why yes, it was raining, and yes, my hair is plastered to my head.